I found this system to have nice quality; it was able to play some of my favorite songs with good definition. I found one track particularly stunning, as it led with a vocal from one side, neatly staged by the audio system, before the music swelled from both left and right channels. I fed the system a track with a little more bass, but it wasn't as strong as I had hoped, coming through more like a tap on the shoulder than a punch in the chest.
For the Prius v and the new Camry, Toyota changed up its head unit offerings, and this car had the top available. That meant a 6.1-inch touch screen showing the navigation system with maps stored on a hard drive. The audio sources are well-rounded, although Toyota does not make room available on the hard drive for music.
One problem I found in the Prius v that I'd earlier encountered in the Camry was that the USB port did not want to work with an iPhone 3GS, but had no trouble recognizing an iPhone 4. That is a serious backward-compatibility problem. With older iPhones and Android phones the system could play music through streaming Bluetooth audio, but the interface is not quite as good.
Toyota greatly improved the voice command system for the Prius v, and I found it useful not only for entering addresses in the navigation system while under way, but also for requesting music from a USB drive by artist and album name. This voice command system also did an excellent job of recognizing names from my paired phone's contact list when I wanted to call someone.
The biggest advance in the Prius v was Toyota's Entune system with its new app integration. As my iPhone 3GS would not connect with the car, I was largely out of luck when it came to this system, as iPhones must have a cabled connection. Android phones can connect through Bluetooth. With either, the phone becomes a data conduit for a selection of apps Toyota built into the head unit.
Brian Cooley looks at Toyota's Entune system
The app selection is good, as it includes OpenTable, Pandora, MovieTickets.com, and iHeartRadio. But the inclusion of Bing as the local search engine smacks more of a business deal than using the best available technology. In testing a Google search on an Android phone versus the Bing search through Entune, the phone returned its results much faster.
The other apps work just as well through Entune as they do on a phone. The Pandora interface was very good, letting me select stations and give songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down as they played. It even showed album art. iHeartRadio brings in Internet radio stations from all over the country, useful for expanding one's musical horizons. I also liked the fact that iHeartRadio had some preset genre stations, so I didn't have to go looking for a specific station from all the radio markets in the country.
As this was Toyota's high-end head unit, it brought in weather, traffic, gas prices, and other information through a satellite data feed. This information was generally available seconds after I requested it through the interface. Toyota's lesser head unit brings in this type of data through Entune, which will probably result in a little more wait time as it comes through the phone's data pipe.
Its hybrid system may no longer have the edge over some newer entrants, but other efficiency engineering in the 2012 Toyota Prius v helps it attain really excellent real-world fuel economy. The conventional suspension distracts from the high-tech nature of this car's performance components.
Toyota steps out on the edge a bit with the cabin tech, using its Entune system to push app integration. Still in an early phase, Entune shows a lot of promise. The new voice command system is also a very useful update to the car's electronics. While the adaptive cruise control proved very useful, Toyota really needs to reengineer the automatic parking system.
The real win for the Prius v is that it maintains very high fuel economy in a small minivan. Although it's only a five-seater in the U.S. market, many will appreciate the more open feel of the cabin and the large cargo area.
|Model||2012 Toyota Prius v|
|Power train||1.8-liter gasoline-electric hybrid system, continuously variable transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||44 mpg city/40 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||40.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard, with contact list download|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||JBL GreenEdge 8-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, automatic parking, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$36,892|